Friday, May 12, 2017

"Nothing can save you"

I'm an amateur writer at best, but what do you do when a beta reader not only rips into your manuscript (which is fine) but also criticizes you as a writer? My last beta reader did just that.

The whole problem stemmed from a question I wasn’t able to answer to her satisfaction. To her, it seemed improbable that there could be humans on other planets. I told her there were theories that I wasn’t willing to go into detail about because 1.) it didn’t have anything to do with the story and 2.) I really hadn’t thought to expand on that particular detail. She persisted in getting an answer so I gave her a few theories.

This is a small portion of what she said in her 2,000-word email reply:

“Now, b/c my reaction was so strong, I decided to wait until I could discuss this with other writers… When I asked the group what they thought about this attitude the nicest ones responded the way I did. Both professors/authors gave me a look that screamed I’d just blasphemed the entire field of writing.”

“You aren’t ready to write. You need to scrap what you’ve written… and take a basic creative writing college course. The one lady suggested hers (and she’s a great teacher), but since you’re in GA I told her that wasn’t possible.”

“You need at least a bachelor’s intro level of understanding, if not a masters.”

“And if this isn’t something you can agree with then I’m afraid there really isn’t anything that can save your story.”

After reading her reply, I felt betrayed. I never gave her permission to share my manuscript or emails. To make things worse, she claimed to only have my best interest at heart.


I gave a polite response and thanked her for her help despite how I felt. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but this one stings.

Oh sweet mother of godiva! First, pour yourself a stiff drink. You not only earned it, you deserve it. Second, erase that  For Your Own Gooder's name from your email list, your contact list, your "friend" list, your list of people you will ever ask for anything again.

She's quite clearly someone who takes great satisfaction in making people feel small.

There's a word for that...actually there are several words for that but let's just use this simple one: vile.

This Vile Person doesn't know how to critique.
She doesn't know how to help a writer.
And she has swathed herself in righteousness to cover her vile, mean-spirited self.

It's too bad you can't tattoo her in some way so other writers will not suffer at her hand.


Let's unpack this a little more: You said "To her, it seemed improbable that there could be humans on other planets."

Unless you are writing non-fiction, you can have cats on Mars, you can have cats solving crimes, and  cats can have publicists and lawyers. 

It's a novel: YOU CAN MAKE IT ALL UP!

Now, the real question here is could this particular reader, vile as she is, suspend disbelief for the notion of humans on other planets.  If she could not, that might be a weakness in the story, but you'll notice she didn't know to say that. She tried to get you to justify an artistic choice.  That's like asking why Picasso chose blue instead of purple.

Second, she passed along cruel and unhelpful comments to bolster her position. That's Not Only Do I Think This, All My Friends Think So Too. It's the behaviour of a third grade bully. Again, not the conduct of a self-actualized adult or even a person who understands the role of a beta reader.

This is my favorite part of her reply to you: The one lady suggested hers (and she’s a great teacher).
This is a textbook example of someone you don't want reviewing your work: somoene who has an agenda for "fixing" what you've done wrong. I'm sure you've heard of the "agents" who tell you they can help you fix things; here's a little side editorial service they run. (I should also note it's a poorly written sentence.)


All of us who read pages either for a living, or as a service to fellow writers, have come across people who need more help than they realize. You may fall into this category (although I have doubts given that your email is pretty damn cogent.)   If you do, a beta reader might say something like "it's hard to get into the story because there are a lot of mistakes that bring me out of the story." Or, "I was never able to fully believe that humans could be on other planets." If something is truly terrible (and yes, I've seen that) you simply step back from being a beta reader and say "I'm sorry, I'm unable to read this for you."

It's clear to me that Vile enjoys being the arbiter of what Is and Is Not the One True Way. People like that are zealots. Zealotry is the antithesis of artistry.

I have but one question and it is this: how the ever loving hell did you get mixed up with this person? The answer to that is important because the takeaway here is that you chose poorly in selecting a beta reader. You MUST figure out how this happened so as to avoid repeating it. 



There is no way her words won't continue to cut at you. Words do that. It will take a while to stop thinking about what she said. One way to do that (and you do need to stop that) is give yourself a mantra to say every time you think of her, and a specific thing to divert your mind to instead. (I use the rosary for this; when I think of something that is unsettling me I recite one Hail Mary and then turn my mind to something else. It takes practice but it works.)

Here's your takeaway: Not only was she wrong, she's a toxic waste of human space, and you deserve better. Your job now is to figure out what got you ensnarled with her so as to avoid doing this again.

I'm sorry this happened to you, and I hope that you'll be able to connect with better readers soon.



I have some other suggestions on dealing with Vile.


101 comments:

Ardenwolfe said...

You could also consider your feedback in another way: Think of it as practice for when those 'reviewers' on Amazon say something similar about your published work.

Besides, Janet is right as usual . . . she obvious had another agenda. Again, consider it practice for when you encounter another person like that in your future writing career.

Because you will.

Susan said...

Oh my fresh hell. I was half-asleep three minutes ago. Now I'm wide awake and fired up because this is bullshit (pardon the language). There are few things that boil my blood more than someone picking on the hopes and dreams of the innocent. Janet is absolutely right in her assessment and reply--this woman is vile to another degree. Because her behavior is so despicable, let me assure you her opinion is worthless. She clearly didn't read your manuscript to help you but to pick you apart, and your feelings of betrayal are absolutely validated. This is your art, your pride, your baby. No one expects such vitriol to be spewed when trust is handed over with their work.

One thing I'm unclear of: is this woman another writer? If so she is a shame to the community. We as fellow writers should support one another, help to nurture each other's dreams because when one rises, we all rise, and that's just what it means to be a good human being.
We build worlds for crying out loud--we should have the decency to help build each other up. Look at this community that Janet has cultivated--with her lead, her blog home has become a prime example of what it means to support each other.

OP. I'm so sorry this happened to you. It sounds like you're in the beginning of your writing journey--I hope this doesn't put you off. Shake off this woman's toxic word vomit, lift your head a little higher, and move forward with determination and pride. Use this as a catalyst to work hard and prove her ass wrong. Never stop writing. And when you need support, know you're always welcomed here.

Thank you, Janet, for always welcoming writers here.

Stephen G Parks said...

This person doesn't understand the basic tropes of SFF and wants you to justify something that's been acceptable* ever since Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars (and possibly even before that).

Does she yell at George Lucas for putting humans in a galaxy far, far away? At Gene Roddenberry for Star Trek?

Upshot, you owe her nothing. She owes you an apology that you'll never get.

For what it's worth, I've found that Fantasy readers make great beta readers for scifi. They don't argue about technology, and just enjoy the story more.

--
*Except in "hard SciFi", which is a bugger to write.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

In every walk of life there are people who will put down others in order to elevate their own sense of self. It is called shaming, they are called insensitive assholes.
So what do you do now?
Pour that drink, have a good cry, whatever.
But my friend, one thing you should NOT do and that is to let your screen go black.
Continue…always.

Donnaeve said...

Let it never go unsaid that a writer must have a thick skin. Nobody should have to wear steel plated armor to go along with it, though. Nobody should have to feel like dog shit on someone's shoe.

As I read through OP's experience, I had the same question Susan had - is this person a writer? And the one QOTKU had - how in the hell did you end up having them beta read? How did you meet them?

And, if this person is a writer...shame on them.

I had a similar experience a few years ago, and I never had this person critique my work again. I didn't need the BOLDED, RED GIGANTIC FONT or the bajillion !!!!!!! I didn't need snark. I didn't need the what the fuck is this??? type of feedback.

OMG, I would feel so betrayed if someone had taken my work and used it as a discussion point with other writers. Betrayed and PISSED.

Ya know, OP, as the old saying goes, opinions are like a--holes, everyone has one - but some are simply just that.

(boy, this got me riled up. I know it when I start cussing...)

Linda Strader said...

Sadly, there will always be people in the world that feel the need to cut someone down to raise themselves up. Rise above this woman's hateful comments and remember that she shows all that is wrong with HER, not you.

PAH said...

Her apparent need to cling to academia is alarming to me. I would guess she is young and in (or just got out of) a working program. Like there is such a thing as a "bachelor's level of understanding" creative writing. Or a master's. It all implies to me that she thinks your level of college education means anything at all to your ability to write good stories.

"Oh. You only have a bachelor's level of writing understanding? I have my doctorate in understanding writing. Pish posh, look at me in all my radiant degree-loving gory."

What level of understanding do y'all plebs got? Sheesh.

kathy joyce said...

I'm sorry this happened to you. That's all I can say right now. All I'm thinking is, "What happened to humanity?"

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Ugh...! I'm so sorry this happened, OP. Just about everything Ms. Vile said is beyond absurd, especially this: "You aren't ready to write." Huh? Writing is how we become better writers.

Years ago, I sought advice from someone I admired. I had just completed my first manuscript. Before this person read a single word I'd written, she asked what my college degree was in. I told her I'd never been to college.

She sputtered out a little laugh (we were talking on the phone) and said, "You'll never get published." What a horrible thing to tell someone. And, boy was she wrong.

Onward, OP! (And fellow Georgian).

Amy Schaefer said...

Disgusting. Whether she was deliberately malicious or just has a total lack of self awareness isn't important. Your beta was rude, cruel, and seriously overreaching. Remove her from your thoughts forthwith.

Theresa said...

Between yesterday's post and today's, I've been having vivid flashbacks of my own writerly woes. OP, I would reorganize Janet's advice a bit: first scrub Vile from all contact information, then sit down with a good stiff drink. You deserve it. And I bet there are people here who would volunteer to do the kind of beta reading you deserve.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Opie! First off--hug time!!

(((((()))))))

Okay. Now. Beta readers. What's been said is true. You have to find people you trust. Trust to give an honest critique. Trust that they understand how to critique the story, not you. Trust that they will treat your work as they would want their own to be treated. I've had some great beta readers, but they've all been people I've known through forums like this. I'm happy to say, there are plenty of people here I would have no problem asking to critique my work (indeed, I have, and they've all been wonderful, helpful, honest, and gracious in their comments).

Wipe the dirt off your feet and move on, Opie. You and I know you don't need a bachelor or master degree to write fiction. Even sci-fi. As Janet said, it's FICTION forcryingoutloud. One of the things I love about fiction, especially after years of writing non-fiction academic papers, is you don't have to include footnotes, and you don't have to know diddly-squat about nothin'--just how to write a cracking good story (though that's hard enough).

Anyway--be encouraged. You're in good company here. I recommend the white wine, though there might be a bottle of Newkie Brown in the fridge if you prefer... :D

DLM said...

My grandfather and my dad used to have a word for the wisdom of such "people" as The Vile One: horsefeathers.

But personally I think she's full of shite. (I added the E to snob it up - for her.) And she probably wrote an awful lot of the so-called rules we were discussing just yesterday - because, clearly, she Knows It All.

What Stephen GP and PAH said. And then some.

Great Caesar's crime-detecting cats, this "person" needs a hobby, a clue (any cat would be happy to provide), and decaf.

OP, to share work without permission is absolutely a betrayal - never mind all the rest of her obtuse horsesh*ttery.

"I should also note it's a poorly written sentence." BAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA! Oh, thank you. As for "Zealotry is the antithesis of artistry." - I want this on a tee-shirt.

Matt Adams said...

If she lists her service as a beta at some place you frequent, make sure other people know what happened to you.

Criticism sucks, and her criticism was over the top and sucky. That in and of itslef isn't grounds for anything but being irritated. But she crossed a line showing it to ANYONE else. She was never given permission to do that, and other people ought to know she crossed that line. If she's a pal, just avoid her and the subject from now on.

It does raise the question of how you found her. That response has MFA program written all over it, and if she was looking for literary work, and yours was SCIFI, such a thing was inevitable. So if you're going to use betas in the future (and I don't think you or anyone needs to. You need to trust yourself as a writer. I think you're better off biting the bullet and hiring an editor) make sure they know what you're writing before either of you agrees. You might also ask what their favorite books are so you know whether they enjoy your genre.

DLM said...

Oh, and OP? You really need to email Vile a link to this post before you delete all her contact info and block the crap out of her. If anyone needs to be schooled, it is she.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Oh dear, OP. This is a writer's nightmare. Start swimming here in the Reef. We discuss ad nauseum beta readers, structure, and valid ways to improve our stories. We even pick apart Harry Potter. See yesterday's post.

What Donna said deserves to be repeated and tattooed to every writer's hind quarters. A writer must develop a thick skin and yes, steel plate is preferable. Writing is a full contact sport. There will be blood, sweat, and tears.

All writers fight against our own doubts and insecurities. Janet calls this our rodent wheel. You sure as Hell don't need Vile adding to that. Perk up, keep writing, and swim with us. Then put Vile in a story as a villain and eviscerate her in fiction.

Welcome to the Reef, OP. This virtual space is a writer's salvation.

Amy Johnson said...

Opie, I'll echo what others have said: I'm so sorry that happened to you. Janet mentioned the suspension of disbelief. I don't read much SF/F, and I don't believe Jesus is a lion, but that didn't stop me from reading those books. And reading them again.

When the harsh words come to mind, maybe focus on the kindness you're getting here today. Then get back to writing.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP: Stay with us for awhile at the Reef. (whoops, I see E.M. has already suggested this.) It's a good place whether you're a lurker or commenter. Some of us drink tea. Some of us drink whisky. Colin's oldest born even bakes wonderful cakes. And take Janet's advice to heart. (Love Duchess of Yowl's expression!)

A good critique partner or beta reader never tears down a person. They're there to help you become self-aware of your weaknesses, critique the bits and pieces of the story that do not work, and encourage the skills you already have.

Learn from this experience and give it a good burial and move on with your writerly life. You have a story to tell.

Kitty said...

I am sorry, OP, you had that experience with that person.

I’ve had two people – both friends – who have critiqued my fiction: She was a retired English teacher, and he was a self-described “hack writer.” Both wrote articles for periodicals, and both admitted they could not write fiction.

She read one of my stories in its early stages. I knew my story needed help, so I sent it to her for a fresh pair of eyes. She found nothing wrong with the spelling or punctuation; instead, She asked questions like, Why did you name her Rita?, and my favorite, Why did you spell Viktor with a k instead of a c? I thanked her for her time and vowed to never ask for her critique again. However, we continue to remember each other on Christmas and birthdays.

He’s kind of a rough-around-the-edges character who lives out West and writes about the West and its history. Picture the actor Sam Elliott. He offered to put one of my stories through “the meat grinder” and warned me he can be “brutal.” Brutal I can take. I told him my WIP was in its raw stages, and he said to send it anyway. So I shipped off my WIP, along with an SASE and $40 cash (because hack writing wasn’t paying like it used to). Within a week, my WIP returned completely marked up in red. He found the whole thing “boring as hell” and summed it up as “62 pages of horseshit.” What on God’s green earth was I thinking asking Cowboy to critique women’s fiction? Of course he’d find it boring as hell. I laughed, and I still laugh when I think of it. I thanked him for his help, because he did offer some good tips, and we are still friends to this day.

My problem was asking the 'wrong' people to critique my stories. I needed writers who write women's fiction. The other day I asked where do I find beta readers, because when I get to that stage, finding the right beta readers is critical. Best of luck to you, OP.

Sam Hawke said...

Boy, we don't get a post on here very often where there is no room for differing approaches or takes on it. But here you go, a post that brings us all together in one glorious line of agreement: that woman is a giant arsehole.*

* I guess most of you would say it as asshole, but I don't think this counts as disagreement. :)

Donnaeve said...

Silly, but funny in my head, so I'll share.

Beta isn't "better" with a NY accent. Haha. Get it? A beta reader?

Okay, back tot he current hell hole known as the WIP.

Colin Smith said...

Sam: I guess it must be a Brit-Aussie thing. I remember in school, as* was okay because that's a donkey, whereas ar** was rude. And you made sure your pronunciation of each was clear. After all, you don't want your friends thinking you're talking about donkeys... :)

K White said...

Boy, do I sympathize with OP. I once encountered a similar situation in a critique group. At first, I valued the person's comments even though they were harsh, because she had sold some short stories to professional magazines and I had not. But over time I began notice that her critiques were not uniform. To long-standing members (especially the group's founder) she offered a few bland suggestions. Whereas she eviscerated the newer members (in fact, that's how we newbies jokingly referred to it afterwards, being eviscerated).

My eyes were really opened when a friend of hers joined the group. This individual's writing tended to be weak (e.g., he apparently didn't know there were other verbs than 'was') yet she heaped glowing praise on him, and then destroyed another writer for having too many weak verbs. I decided that she obtained some type of sadistic pleasure from destroying other writers. I, along with several others, left the group and she blasted us via email for doing that. Sadly, it has taken me a while to scrub her vile (thank you, Janet, for the right word) critiques from my brain. But I did learn how to avoid similar individuals.

OP, the best thing you can do is keep writing and prove the beta reader wrong when you land a book deal.

kathy joyce said...

Might I suggest torpedoing the phrase (and thought) "amateur writer"? We're all writers. Getting paid for writing doesn't make us professional, and not getting paid doesn't mean we're amateur. Every book, article, poem, story is unique. No one but the writer can create it. Just because it's not finished yet doesn't make us amateurs. We're experts in our own work, and we need to own that. We're writers, and writers are good for the world. Period.

Kregger said...

OP,

Please take Ms. Reid's advice to heart. I know it's hard to drown out nattering nabob of Vile's voice in your head, but to be cliche, in time this too shall pass.

I've run across (unfortunately, not literally) people like Vile aka "Snowflake" when I used to critique new writers. They are like earworms playing only disco covers or the Macarena.

Ms. Reid's idea of prayer works for some, personally, I replay Johnny Carson's Tonight Show's theme song as played by Doc Severinsen in my head. That pretty much wipes off everything from the map.

As the advice goes, living well is the best revenge, so it is for writers. Writing well is the best revenge for any naysayer willing to be...vile.

Besides, my last MC was a unicorn that excreted rainbows.

Anything wrong with that?

P.S. If this person has an online presence, do not engage him/her. I have seen these things go sideways in a hurry. Let them turn Sauron's evil eye upon someone else.

Good luck, you've asked the right question in the right place.

Kregger

Dena Pawling said...


>>I'm an amateur writer at best,
>>I gave a polite response and thanked her for her help despite how I felt.

These two sentences are mutually exclusive. I agree with the consensus here, and just wanted to add that it's NOT YOU who are the amateur here.

I asked [by private email] several people who comment here to be beta readers for me and me for them. They have given me great feedback. If you're still looking for beta readers, send a few emails to people here who you think might be a good fit. I think you'll find the results much more useful and definitely more professional.

Sam Hawke said...

Colin: Hehe, yep. Though 'ass' doesn't get a lot of use down here - I think pretty much everyone would say donkey. :)

BunnyBear said...

I want to hear the Duchess of Yowl's suggestions for dealing with Vile.

dellcartoons said...

>She persisted in getting an answer

Uh... no. She was wrong at that very spot. A beta reader asking a question can be valid, but she should accept whatever answer, even a non-answer, the writer gives. The writer is NOT required to satisfy every beta reader completely.

>When I asked the group what they thought about this attitude

Sounds like she just said something paraphrased to her group, just gave her side of the story. Depending on how she worded it, the other writers may be justified in their reactions, not knowing the full story. Of course, she was wrong to do so in the first place.

As for your attitude, you sound much more professional than even some professional writers. See http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2016/11/how-much-of-pita-can-you-be.html

Anyone have suggestions on how to find GOOD beta readers?

stacy said...

WTF?? WT ever-loving F? Like you, O.P., I CANNOT get past her sharing your work with others before asking for your permission.

It's funny. I was just thinking yesterday about the whole "art school" (in any art form) vs. learning on your own. I don't think school (for the most part) is the way to go. I went for music--two degrees--and... I don't think those degrees helped me become a composer. I just think it's too easy to get invested in all the wrong ways--I did it, and it sounds like that is exactly what Ms. Vile has done, too.

No one can really teach you how to be an artist. It's the artist's job to figure that out. You can find mentors to learn the craft and possibly the business side of things. But no one can help you overcome all the personal shit and self-doubt you need get over to become the artist you want and were meant to be.

Stephanie Artley said...

Sharing your writing without permission seems like breaking some sacred, unwritten rule. The rest is indicative of a pretty terrible beta reader, but sharing work without permission is a betrayal of trust.

And how big a deal can humans on other planets possibly be when you're writing sci fi?!

Claire AB. said...

I'm so sorry, OP! What an unbelievable a-hole! But hopefully it helped to write to Janet. Because between her response (you go, QOTKU!) and all the comments (I love this place!), there's a flip in the karma. Vile got it right back at her! And we're just getting started -- it's only 9:30AM here on the East Coast:-)

Colin Smith said...

How to find good beta readers
This question has come up more than once over the past week or so. As I said above, I found mine through online connections I had made over years, where I got to know people, at least to the extent you can know anyone online. Take this band of merry wordsmiths. If you've been hanging out here for a year or more, you should know the regulars fairly well, their temperament, even the kinds of things they like to read and write. Pick one you think might be a good fit for your work. They ought to have contact info in their Blogger profile. Drop them an email, or send them a DM on Twitter. Ask if they would be willing to beta read for you. Give them an idea of word count, and perhaps your query so they know what the book's about. Some nice words about their writing and how you hang on their every comment wouldn't go amiss either. ;) If the person in question turns you down, don't take it personally. They might be busy, or they might not think they're the best critiquer for your genre. That's okay. Thank them and move on. If they accept, send them your latest and greatest mss, and include guidelines on the kind of critique you want (line edits, "where did you get bored?" "where did you laugh?", character assessments, plot critique, etc.), and an idea of when you hope to start querying. If they've agreed to take this on, don't be afraid to hold them to the commitment, and give them a reasonable time frame to complete.

Alternatively, you can pay for an editor to go through your ms. This can be expensive, but you should at least get a professional response. I have no experience with this option, so I can't speak to it directly.

OK, that's my 2c on beta readers. Other thoughts...?

Casey Karp said...

Not a whole lot to add, but some things need to be repeated multiple times until they sink in.

Only you can judge the worth of your writing.

What Vile did is, yes, vile and inexcusable. And I agree that it sounds like she's either selling classes or is a worshipper at the temple of the MFA (or both), and you've been well-advised to (a) scrub her from your brain, (b) find new beta readers, and (c) KEEP WRITING.

And, as an aside, PAH, I love "all my radiant degree-loving gory".

Elissa M said...

OP, Stephen G Parks already covered the first thing that popped into my head: Other planets can't have humans? Good thing no one told George Lucas that.

"Vile" is accurate but far too polite a word for what I was thinking about your beta reader. "Ignorant" is another polite-but-accurate description.

My husband (an avid SF/F reader) just now summed up fiction perfectly: "It's my universe, and I'm god, so I can have humans on other planets if I want to." That's the only answer you needed to give that @!#$% person.

Hold your chin up. You are a writer. With perseverance, you can be a published writer. Do everything Janet said about severing contact with that reptilian scum. If you are in need of a beta reader who understands your genre, contact me. I'll at least be able to focus on the actual writing and story rather than get hung up on a basic genre convention.

Gigi said...

OP: So so sorry this happened to you! Good luck finding kinder, more helpful betas!

Dan Phalen said...

Without going into deep psychoanalysis, OP, consider what personal problems might cause the reader to respond this way. It's her problem, not yours, and you can be the compassionate one and realize some kind of insecurity is at work in her response. That's not your problem, but realizing that's behind the vitriol makes you the better person, allows you to forgive and move on.

As Janet said, you must move on. Many of us have had similar experiences of being personally attacked. We cannot allow the shock of it to persist. Rather, realize our own accomplishment--hey, you FINISHED A BOOK! Regardless of writing lessons you may have yet to learn, you did something only a small number of people ever accomplish.

So, take three deep breaths (it really helps) give the situation your back, and move on as the better person in the bargain.

C M said...

Excuse my language, but that's total BS. I took part in critique groups when I was starting out & it always seemed to me that the worst writers in the class were the first to slam someone else's work.

I'm not a famous writer, but I am published (and soon to be published with a big house). I'd be happy to look at the first 10 pages of this and give some general (ie, not too cruel feedback). If your heart isn't too in the dumps after this experience, feel free to email them to me at Chris (at) ChristopherMeades (dot) com

Steve Stubbs said...

(1) Everybody is ready to write, since there is no other way to learn. Not everybodsy is ready to publish.

(2) If the crit contains no specific feedback (just a general "you suck"), don't scrap your aspirations. Scrap your beta reader.

(3) Specific feedback should be OK even if you don't like it, but "I don't like sci-fi" is not feedback. I don't like paranormal fiction (vampires, werewolves, shape shifters.) So what?

(3) Having talked to numerous people, I am skeptical about creative writing courses. There are great ways to learn, but they are very intense and self-directed.

(4) Sometimes profs have questionable motives. The profs of his day dismissed Dickens as "a mere popular writer." HELLO? Percy Marks was drummed out of the English department at Brown for writing a successful novel (THE PLASTIC AGE.) Erich Segal committed a faux pas at Yale by writing LOVE STORY. Absolutely everybody slammed E.L. James for FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. (A book that has a lot to teach about commercial writing, BTW.) The way I see it, if you can't do, teach, but for Fido's sake don't smear those who can. Green is a color best kept hidden.

(5) There is a long learning curve. If you have not been writing ten years yet, cut yourself some slack. You may be on your way to success.

BJ Muntain said...

We were discussing using beta readers who don't read in our genre here earlier this week. It's perfectly fine to have such beta readers, but they have to be able to understand that different genres are different.

Suspension of disbelief is important, and some people can't do that to the level science fiction or fantasy requires. That's why you get a lot of science fiction and fantasy readers sharing critique groups - they both require adequate suspension of disbelief, so if you write one, chances are you can understand the other.

Now, OP, you obviously write science fiction, and not the hardest SF, either. (Hard SF is 'the science must be perfect', though hardness is more of a continuum than a standard.) I'm going to give you a bit of a warning - the harder a science fiction writer writes, the more trouble they may have in suspending disbelief. Be prepared for having certain other science fiction writers to be just as distaining as Ms Vile. They'll say, "That's not science fiction. That's fantasy." Faster-than-light travel is a common SF trope, but the hardest SF writers claim that's fantasy, too.

So even among other SF writers, be prepared for this. I wasn't, and I let it affect my writing for too long. What I wanted to write was space opera, the fun SF that pretty much requires FTL travel. I tried to write harder stuff, but I had no interest in it. Don't do what I did. Don't believe the science is more important than the story.

Instead, when you're faced with these hard SF writers, just smile and nod and enjoy reading David Weber and his very successful ilk, knowing that some people need to get an imagination.

(Note: That doesn't mean you don't want to get at least the basics of science right. It doesn't require a degree in astrophysics. All it requires is a scientific-minded friend - with an imagination - to read and offer suggestions, and then a lot of Google searching for ideas.)

As for Ms. Vile... well, some people also need to get a soul.

Susan Bonifant said...

I'm so sorry. How cruel.

The worst part of this, is that there is probably a little tender place in your heart that believes she's right. Writers - many of us - can be toppled by hearing the things we fear are true (even though they are not).

Please, please remember that fear is not information.

Please use the mantra idea because it will short-circuit your impulse to work through this with sense and logic. This is not about what is sensible and logical or right.

This is about one person's desire to hurt someone else and this time it was you.

I'm sorry for how that felt.

The Noise In Space said...

My inner Vulcan knows that this is a take-a-shot-and-walk-away situation, but my inner Klingon is making a very strong case for a Creative Revenge Special...if not the classic "shrimp in the curtain rods," then at least a milder one like the "exotic animal dung shipment" or the ever-popular "glitter bomb your enemies." Tequila's the more adult response, but man, those other ones would feel good.

Her comments reveal far more about her than about your writing, OP. Don't let her get to you.

Janet Reid said...

Oh my GODIVA!
Shrimp in the curtain rods!!
I've never heard of that, and now I can't think of anything else.

I love this blog community so much!

nightsmusic said...

I have but one question and it is this: how the ever loving hell did you get mixed up with this person? The answer to that is important because the takeaway here is that you chose poorly in selecting a beta reader. You MUST figure out how this happened so as to avoid repeating it.

This! Right here. Criticism is a very hard thing to take from anyone, but criticism from someone who wouldn't have read your work were it published because (to me) it sounds like it strays from her beliefs (no life on other planets/not someone who believes in anything science fiction) is worse because she has no basis with which to comment. I'm guessing she neither reads nor watches anything science fiction related so she's already angry that you're going against her ideas and she's going to make damned sure you know that.

I belong to RWA and a couple of online chapters. We all share a like interest in what we write. That's where I look for beta readers/critique partners. I don't look in the science fiction groups, the non-fiction groups, academia or true crime or any of the other genre groups out there. There is a unique basis to each genre and you need to find a group that specializes in yours. That's where you're most likely to get the best feedback.

In the romance world, most of the chapters run contests. You have three or four judges who read your work and judge on a criteria set down by (usually) RWA. I had one entry at one time that really was part Mary Sue, part women's fiction. It should not have been entered in a Romance contest. Period. Though I made a couple of comments on construction and grammar, I couldn't comment on the content because I don't read women's fiction and didn't feel qualified to and I explained this when I returned my scored sheets. I judged the construct but not the content. I say this because this Vile Idiot should have recused herself as well. But she didn't. She attacked you. And for that, I'm angry and sorry you were so beat up by her.

We're all going to be criticized whether published or still trying. I'd rather be criticized by someone who knows the genre I write in than someone who has no clue. However, you are a writer! Take the 'amateur' and other words out for now. And take Janet's words to heart.

BJ Muntain said...

By the way, OP: If you're looking for space opera fans, there are two Facebook groups you might be interested in. Do a FB search for Space Opera and its sister group, Space Opera: Writers. You'll probably find some good beta readers there, as well as a lot of good conversations.

Rio said...

I think it was Ray Bradbury who said he'd forever be known as the man who put an atmosphere on Mars.

Your story world is yours, OP. Make it interesting, make it believable, and never ever apologize for it.

roadkills-r-us said...

One takeaway from this is to include instructions and questions with anything you send to a reader. One of mine is, "Please do no let anyone read this without my permission." I think I am going to change it to "explicit permission" with any new readers.

As far as Janet's discussion of how you feel, I've learned not to take things personally. (I had to. I was the king of personal, and it was killing me.) But ultimately, what people say to you- and how they say it- always tells you more about them than it does you (even if they are spot on, which this person clearly was not). Bless this sad soul and move on. I'll join Colin in offering a hug.

While I have no problem with degrees (my father is a brilliant PhD), they are to some extent over-rated. A degree in and of itself doesn't necessarily prove anything. It *should*, but it might not. I have worked for decades in software and IT- without a degree. I've presented at conferences where people with masters degrees sat on the front row to hear what I had to say, and thank me afterward. I've also been shown flaws in my very experienced approach by kids fresh out of high school. And vice versa. It all comes down to who you are and what you really get from the program.

No humans on other planets, indeed. Clearly these people[1] haven't read much science fiction, and have rather limited imaginations.

[1] Or at least this person. Did they *really* talk to others? Who knows?

Jessica said...

OP, I'm so sorry this happened to you. Unfortunately I know how you feel. In one of my creative writing classes--an intro class, I might add--my professor looked at me, in front of my whole class, and told me to start over. I wanted to die.

But I didn't die and I didn't give up. That reader is actively vindictive, and probably felt really good about destroying a newbie writer. A "holier-than-thou" complex, probably. But all that is on her, not you. Keep writing and don't stop.

Another thing this brings up is this: if she hated the story that much, why did she keep reading?? I've been in situations where the prose was so bad I couldn't stand it. But I didn't try to muscle through it because feeling like you're forced to read something only makes you hate it more. It's okay to simply tell the author "hey, this isn't for me. Good luck with your editing in the future." What this...vile individual did was the opposite of productive. No one is happy here except her ego.

I like sci-fi, so if you need a beta reader, let me know. My critique style is honest but respectful. You can send me the first chapter and we can go from there. I'm sorry again OP; you don't deserve this treatment. Good luck and keep writing!!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

As Colin said upthread, it's super important to trust your beta/feel like you can trust your beta. I don't know if this is the first time this person has read your work (and for both of your sake I hope it's her last), and I don't know where you found her. Which is not to say you can't find people online that you'd trust and consider friends; I certainly have, in my years of internet citizenship.

Personally, my betas are a friend I've gamed with for years, who will tell me some punctuation stuff, and ask some interesting/important questions, and somebody who joined my writing group a little more than a year ago who I've become fast friends with. We know each other, our preferences and proclivities, and we're honest with criticisms. I feel very lucky to have these people, and wish that kind of luck on everybody, but as I said, a year ago I only had the one friend, and that person doesn't have the time/fortitude to beta novels, so I was stuck.

And sometimes you'll be stuck, and take who you can get to read for you, who doesn't understand what you're doing, and it's frustrating and emotionally bruising. Or you mistake somebody you thought you knew, and end up the same way. It stinks, and whichever way it happened to you, OP, I'm very sorry. You don't need college to write. You don't need this woman's friend's classes or whatever. You need to write, lots. And read lots. And try to tune out people who are criticizing to hurt rather than help, and sharing your stuff hither and yon.

Colin Smith said...

C M (Christopher Meades): Do we have your published work(s) listed on the List of Blog Readers' Published Works in the Treasure Chest? Hmmm? Do we?? Hmm Hmmm??? If not, I expect an email from you shortly. ;)

The Sleepy One said...

Side note, you really don't need any sort of degree to be a writer. My favorite CP has several books out with a big five publisher and never attended college. We have a friend in a similar situation (books published by a major house) and she's just finishing her associates now. They're both smart people who have always been readers.

RosannaM said...

Already 50 comments, so this post really struck a nerve! (I'll read those next)

First off, I want to offer a virtual hug to the OP. How you managed to handle that type of (I won't call it feedback or critique) insulting commentary politely is a credit to you.

What do you do with that? Flush it away and do not waste any more of your mental energy thinking about it. Critiques should have some concrete suggestions that you can work with. This person was demeaning and patronizing and certainly did not have your best interests at heart. She didn't treat you with even a modicum of respect by sharing your work with others. Betrayed? You betcha! I second Janet and say DELETE her from your life.

You deserve better than this. Vet your next beta reader very carefully. Best of luck.

DLM said...

Colin, CM's site has all the info you need.

Rio, to the same point ... when I was eighteen, our school was privileged to host William Golding one afternoon. He told us about the imaginary pink granite cliffs he had created in Lord of the Flies: a geological impossibility, at least on the planet humanity currently occupies. But he needed those pink granite cliffs, and so he made them manifest. Thank MAUD he had no experts to fix that for us. Some of the great entertainment ("Becket", "Amadeus") and literature of history (like, all of Shakespeare) exists precisely because it was unfettered by this sort of pedantic specificity.

The level of point-missing on Vile's part might almost be impressive, if it were not so sad. Imagine having to live inside a mind so brittle, rigid, narrow. Vile's punishment is front-loaded: how can it be possible to ever have any fun or pleasure in life, so hemmed in by the literal?

I might just about find it in my heart (because I have one) to pity Vile, if I weren't so busy feeling for her victim.

And I still really hope she reads this. Not because I think she deserves people to be mean to her, but because she honestly needs to learn. She is literally dangerous in her limited viewpoint.

Craig F said...

The first thing, the absolutely MFing first thing is to quit calling yourself an amateur at best. You are a developing writer. All writers should be that. If you find someone who thinks they know all there is about writing, run, run fast and run far.

While you are running be on the lookout for better, or at least new, beta readers. You never know what they will be until you have worked with them for a while.

Personally I would like to find better beta readers too. I like mine and they try, usually, but one has a bad habit of sending me critiques that are basically a "Whoa shit, that's cool" kind of message.

I also like sci-fi and have one almost finished. If you wish to give it a go contact me.

cfenner13@the gmail thing

Sherry Howard said...

First, I have to totally defend OP's hurt and (I hope healthy anger too) offense at this diatribe from a beta reader. No question about that.

But this triggered a horrible recent memory.

In some cases people are NOT truly ready for beta readers, and I mean they aren't ready to hear any criticism of their writing. I'm VERY experienced with critique, and beloved by my closest critique partners. I recently used the: "I'm sorry, I'm unable to read this for you." approach Janet mentioned. I gave praise for the writing skills, but mentioned where I stopped reading and why. The person for whom I read became irate and pretty irrational, in a public way. I felt terrible that I had that impact on someone; I still worry at it like a wound that won't quite heal. I felt like one of those no good deed goes unpunished scenarios. I most likely won't offer beta reads as easily as I have in the past. So, the flip side of being a beta reader has its risks too.

The Noise In Space said...

@Janet - creative revenge is something of a specialty of mine (I don't think I've ever used it, but I enjoy reading and collecting things that other people think of.) The "shrimp in the curtain rods" is a way to make someone's house smell absolutely disgusting - you shove raw shrimp inside the hollow part of the rods, and as they...ripen, shall we say, they get more and more fragrant. The occupant will be going out of their minds trying to find the smell, and of course the curtain rods are the last place they'll look. John Green does a version of this in one of his books (I think it's Looking for Alaska?) when his character puts fish under the floorboards of a car.

Julie Weathers said...

OP, ignore the drek this quean put on you. She was trying to make herself look and feel important at your expense. Those people aren't worth the breath to put a decent curse on them.

You don't need to explain how humans got on another planet. It's fiction. Unless you're writing historical, you get a lot of leeway, even then there's some wiggle room.

"You aren’t ready to write. You need to scrap what you’ve written… and take a basic creative writing college course."

I get a little weary of this and the "You need to write ten years before you can even think about being a writer."

Bull crap.

It sounds like the editor I paid to look at the first 50 pages of The Rain Crow and Far Rider. After ridiculing me for my lack of knowledge about horses and the Victorian era, Civil War, and everything else, she told me to stop writing.

Regarding the fantasy, she yapped about the MC and the uncle's names being too similar and referred me to her blog post about naming characters. This is writing 101 stuff!

Uh, she was named after her uncle, there's a reason their names are similar.

When I responded to her complaints, she fled to her blog and threatened to ruin me with every publisher she knew.

Alas, I shall never be published it seems. Where did I put my fainting couch?

Read a lot and write a lot. You learn a more than you think by reading authors in and out of your genre. You'll start recognizing patterns.

Don't discount yourself and don't let pismires like this steal your joy.

Gypmar said...

I don't have much to add to all of the great comments here, except to say that you guys are the best. I love it here.

I will echo what someone else said upthread. I've noticed in my community in the Portland area that the better and more established a writer is, the more likely he or she is to be kind and encouraging to the up-and-comers. The people who tear others down are not only wrong to do so, they are also usually unqualified.

Colin Smith said...

Gypmar: It's probably a matter of confidence. Those who are secure in their own abilities have nothing to fear helping those starting out. Those who are riddled with self-doubt are the ones who feel threatened by, and are more likely to lash out at, perceived competition. That's probably too broad a generalization, but I daresay there's some of that going on.

literary_lottie said...

“You need at least a bachelor’s intro level of understanding, if not a masters.”

I keep getting stuck on this sentence (and not just because of the terrible grammar). Is Vile saying you need a bachelor's or master's in creative writing in order to be a published author? Because this is demonstrably not true.

A lot of people in the comments are calling out Vile as an MFA graduate or candidate, but I don't think that's the case - not only because of her poor writing, but because every person with an MFA I know freely admits that it's a totally unnecessary degree if your end goal is to be a published author. An MFA program may provide you with publishing connections you can leverage, but unless you're writing a certain brand of literary fiction, you'd be much better off continuing to plug away at your craft while attending conferences, querying agents, etc. You'll learn just as much, and you won't be required to TA undergraduates in Composition 101. (Another reason I don't think Vile is an MFA candidate - she'd have never gotten away with this attitude during critique sessions in her program.)

Vile, to me, sounds like someone who took a few writing courses at the local community college (not that there's anything wrong with that) and figured it makes her God's Gift to Words. If I were her I'd ask for my money back, because those classes clearly didn't help her foster empathy or imagination, two things which - unlike an MFA - are required if you want to be a good writer.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie if you ever stop writing, I might have to ..well, I would be distraught. So many worrying days your tales have brought a smile to my face. That said I hope the 5 words for contest 100 are settled because pismire - that sure looks like shark bait to me. My, oh, my what a glorious word choice.

Jen said...

"And she has swathed herself in righteousness to cover her vile, mean-spirited self..."

Yep. ^^^This.

Or "she swathed herself in righteousness" to cover up her own insecurities. It's amazing to me how much anger and hatred are spewed from individuals who are desperate to hide their own inadequacies.

I'm so sorry this happened to you, OP. I'm not Ms. Vile, but I'm going to take this post as food for thought on how I can improve my own critiques.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, I don't need to add a long echo here but wanted to poke my head in and say we are (obviously) behind you. It took me years to realize that these sorts of things usually have a lot more to do with the person dishing it out than you (or your writing).

Noise, I think you are giving Janet ideas...

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Julie and E.M.... Speaking of contest 100. Yesterday I gave a talk about the sanctuary at our local library. While waiting for the event to begin I spent a few moments browsing the books. Imagine my delight when I came upon "The Scapegrace."

JD Horn said...

The way the beta reader delivered the message and betrayed the writer by sharing the work without permission is indeed vile.

I wonder, though, if what the reader was trying to critique was the writer's worldbuilding technique. Here's a link to a set of questions posted by Patricia C. Wrede on the SFWA website that serve as a great guide to worldbuilding: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/

Check out the questions, but don't give up.



Colin Smith said...

JD's link: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/

JD Horn said...

Thanks, Colin. :)

John Davis Frain said...

OP,

There are enough good suggestions here to write a book. (Hey!) And I haven't read half of them yet.

Me? I'd just wish this woman good luck with her remaining twelve steps and move on. She's not worth sucking any more of your time away.

Good luck to you, wherever you are on the (rather long) journey.

Peggy Rothschild said...

I love reading all the supportive feedback to OP and I echo it. So sorry this happened to you.

(And with a nod to PAH, I'm way behind on my "doctorate in understanding writing":D )

Mister Furkles said...

I am shocked. Half the Science Fiction and Science Fantasy novels I've read are total trash. Thank goodness Isaac Azimov didn't live long enough to learn his Foundation Trilogy is unpublishable dreck.

Joseph Snoe said...

Comment 1 of 3:

I have mixed feelings.

I can imagine the beta reader seeing so many basic flaws she realized OP needed a primer on novel writing. She got carried away with her criticisms, but not because she was a bad person. As for the professor, maybe her course was exactly what OP needed. I don’t know.

My personal experience. Writing a novel is completely foreign to me. I finished mine, really proud of it.

A person here read it. Only had a few comments, the most memorable being drop the first 80 pages, don’t give up your day job, and take a writing course (with a recommended one named).

Joseph Snoe said...

Comment 2 of 3
After reading the comments, I dropped the first 80 pages, I gave up my day job anyway, and I took the writing course. I also bought books on writing - one by James Scott Bell the most helpful.

After all that, I like my current beginning better, I’m still glad I quit my day job, and applying what I learned in the writing course (which I hated most of the time I was in it) and reading James Scott Bell has improved my novel tremendously (I hope anyway).

There are so many nuances to writing an acceptable novel not obvious to a beginner novelist (like me and probably OP).

Joseph Snoe said...

Comment 3 of 3

Now, on the other hand, the other crap the beta reader wrote is shocking – and even more shocking that a group of supposedly knowledgeable writers and teachers would agree with it.

Do you need a degree in writing? I have multiple degrees but none in writing, but that’s not keeping me from writing a novel. Writing courses can be helpful as I wrote above. Stephen King thought graduate writing programs were useless (I just tried to find the exact line from his On Writing book. I couldn’t find it but I found myself reading about fifty pages of the book and vowing to read the whole thing again when I finish my WIP revisions – he did say don’t share your writing with anyone even after you’ve finished the first draft until you‘ve gone through it again, maybe three times - I’ve already blown that bit of advice).

Joseph Snoe said...

Comment 4 of 3:

After reading all this, I think I'll refuse to critique other people's writing when asked (Which I enjoyed doing) for fear they'll hate me for what I say, no matter my good intentions. That's probably why agents don't explain reasons for rejecting manuscripts.

Megan V said...

OP. I don't have much to say. it's all been covered here. Your soon to be ex beta and her cronies did one thing a writer never should, they denigrated you to boost their own egos. Writing is not a rat race. You deserved better.

And while I can't beta for you on a continuous basis at the moment, I will gladly offer up my services if you want someone to do a full readthrough this weekend. And I'd be glad to comisibrate with you anytime.

CynthiaMc said...

This is why I don't let anyone read my writing until it's published.

I rarely critique anyone's writing even when asked because I value friendships.

Exception: Years ago several of us met for a couple of beachside weekends. We were writers from different genres (poet, thriller writer, romance, mystery, historical, memoir). We had a great time (so much so we did it again), helped each other grow as writers, rejoiced in each other's successes. It was a magical group at the perfect time for each of us.

Study the writers you love. Study technique - why did that work? Why did that resonate with you? Apply that understanding to your own writing.

kathy joyce said...

On needing degrees: My grandmother taught in country schools (i.e., one room schoolhouses) in the Dakotas in the early 1900s. No one valued education more than she did. But, her favorite joke was, "First you get a BS, and everyone knows what that is. Then you get an MS; that's more of the same. Then you get a PhD. That means piled higher and deeper!" ;) She was a wise woman, and I still miss her.

CynthiaMc said...

Remembering our beachside conferences - don't discount someone's input just because they are from a different genre. Our poet was great at pointing out beautiful phrasing when she saw it and offering suggestions when she didn't. My detective series friend tended toward "just the facts" writing. I'd ask things like "what was he thinking?" (sometimes nothing). He in turn would tell me "That's a Class A hissy fit your heroine threw - now what's she going to do to get where she wants to be?"

Each genre has spice that adds to the stew.

Panda in Chief said...

OP: wow!
I know I'm just chiming in on the chorus here, but your story brought back a 40 year old flashback of people being nasty in art school critiques, just because they could. And that was in person!
Pay this vile excuse for a human being no mind. I know, I know. Easier said than done.
Here's my mantra, which I joyfully share with you: look into the mirror and repeat after me: "Damn, I'm good!"
Keep saying it till you believe it.

They know not of what they speak.
A**hole, indeed!

You are among friends here.

Panda in Chief said...

Okay, here's my second comment. Writing degrees (or painting degrees, for that matter) are not really about learning to write. They are about getting a job teaching. Yes, you do learn stuff you might have taken more time to learn without college (and for me it was a safe transition space in a time when you didn't have to spend the cost of a house to get your degree), but really having the letters MFA on a certificate, does not a writer make.

Adele said...

Kudos to you, OP, for having the courage to post your Vile experience. Now that you know it was completely unwarranted you can leave it behind and concentrate on your future writing. Great advice from Janet - examine how you wound up with this gem, change your method, and be sure to get a beta reader who loves the genre you write.

I once took a university course in creative writing. I wrote mysteries, and nobody in the class even read mysteries. The critiques I got were almost comically useless - comments like "What seems to be happening isn't what's really happening! You have to be more clear. Why don't you tell us what's really happening?" Happily I had access to experienced beta readers who loved mysteries and gave me totally different feedback.

Brigid said...

Susan: "We build worlds for crying out loud--we should have the decency to help build each other up." Brilliantly stated, and I agree completely.

I can tell Vile Velma got to all of us because of the number of folks too mad to type straight today. (I've corrected 11 in this comment so far. No, 12.)

Mark Ellis said...

Suggested mantra (with apologies to the Cowardly Lion)I do believe in aliens, I do believe in aliens...

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...


I wouldn't be surprised to find out Miss Vile spends a lot of time as an internet troll. It's hard to believe, but there are a lot of vulgar humans on this planet. People that enjoy belittling others and tearing people down. What I do with these people, as Janet suggests,is delete/block them from my life. I'm sure that in Vile's reply to you, most of it, if not all of it, is lies, satisfying her vulgar bullying behaviour. I'd put money on it that she didn't show your writing to anyone else. One of my favourite mantras is "Mediocrity Attacks Excellence." When you really think about, you'll realize it's true. Don't let her negativity have an impact on you, that was her goal, then she's won. Something similar recently happened to me. Give it a few days, a week if necessary, while still working on your writing, of course, never give up, and you'll see, you'll feel much better. Time heals. Have a shot of tequila, or three, perhaps in a lovely tasty strawberry margarita, and put on your big-girl panties! WE ARE ALL ON YOUR SIDE HERE. Can you feel the love? I can! Don't let that trash litter your life. Onward and upward, OP!

John Davis Frain said...

Ya know, I totally understand how OP could have accidentally gotten this person as a beta reader. Happened to me.

It's kinda like when an agent wants to see your work. REALLY? Someone wants to see my stuff? We're temporarily blind.

I had a person ask to be a beta reader, and that's exactly how I reacted. Seriously? You WANT to read something I wrote? Of course I'll give it to you. You might like it and tell me so!

That experience went horribly wrong. They not only told me how bad my stuff was, but also how much I could get sued. And then we moved to the second paragraph.

I actually went over to their house to review and receive my scolding, and I couldn't escape fast enough. After 90 minutes, I lied and said I had a meeting, we'd need to reschedule to finish later (NOT!) and I ran as fast and as far as I could.

I imagine a lot of folks have stories similar to yours, OP, so don't feel like you messed up. There are a million scenarios where you could've landed with the wrong beta reader. You have lots o' company.

Just one piece of advice from me: Keep Writing.

DLM said...

Janet, my apologies for over-posting today, but the direction we've taken puts me in mind of our ongoing discussions of finding (and how to employ) beta readers this week. Specifically: the questions we ask them.

Earlier in my pre-published career, I never asked questions. Just turned over my MSS to people I trusted and waited for "feedback". Time and chance, that. Beta reading should not work like Deep Thought (yeah, another Douglas Adams reference). Deep Thought was the greatest computer in the history of time and space, tasked with coming up with the ULTIMATE answer - to life, the universe, and ... everything. Problem was, once Deep Thought proffered the magic answer, nobody knew what it meant. They had not formulated the question itself.

So, forty-two. And sigh.

I know now: ask the right questions. ASK questions.

And if I am not asking questions - you are not my beta reader, so you'r eoff the hook. :)

Vile thought she had all the answers. But she hadn't listened for the questions.

Lennon Faris said...

Speaking of improbabilities, does anyone know how probable it is, that there is life on Earth?

Close to zero. In fact, if you didn't 'know' that it was true, you'd probably never think it was possible. Just sayin'.

Craig F said...

Through my long and shaky careers I have met many different kinds of Vile people. This one strikes me as more of a money grubber than one of the truly vile. The easiest way to suck money out of people is to cow them into giving it up. I think that was the whole point of it.

I am glad you didn't fall for it, OP, it is just another kind of way to run a scam. There are a mess of them in the writing business so stay on your toes.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I've studied writing at a post-graduate level. Vile's kind of people are EVERYWHERE. Well, in Academia, they are.

In the real world, the professional world, they're rare, simply because they can't hack it out here.

Opie, you write SF. Go find your tribe. They'll understand you.

To anyone looking to be a career author, know that the journey is NOT like becoming an accountant. You don't need a formal education and you don't need certification. (Anyone who tells you you do, is not doing it to serve your best interests.)

The writer's pathway is not Bachelor's, Master's. It's apprenticeship, journeymanhood, master.

Frankly, Opie, the fact you asked our queen her opinion gives me hope about you. I've got Viles in my past. Best thing for my career was to dismiss them.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Rio, I find this hilarious, because we've proven Mars has an atmosphere, albeit a tenuous one of CO2. But even at 100mbars, it's sufficient for clouds, fog, and even snow.

We truly do not know enough about the universe to pooh-pooh the idea of humans on another planet.

In SF, we don't have to get our facts precise. We just have to make them sound plausible.

Snow on Mars? Fact. The Phoenix mission proved it.

kdjames.com said...

I get the feeling this Vile person is a family member, maybe a sister or a cousin. At the least, a close friend (term used ironically). She refers to "other writers" so I imagine she considers herself a writer. But I bet she's the kind of writer who talks a lot about writing, considers herself an expert, but never finishes anything. I bet she feels threatened as all hell that OP managed to finish a draft and [gasp] might even find success. Did I mention I have three sisters? One of them would almost certainly react this way if I ever dared to step foot in what she considers to be "her" field of expertise. Luckily for me and my desire to avoid prison, I have no interest in that field.

OP, I heartily concur with what everyone else said. None of this feedback has anything to do with you and your writing. None of it.

Motivation doesn't always come from people who support us, but from those who we need to prove wrong. Not the most noble of intentions, but hey, whatever works. Put this behind you and keep on doing what you do. And if she offers to "help" you again, just say no. Firmly.


Botanist said...

The comments seem to have covered the ground pretty well here, which is good because they helped lower my blood pressure before I started typing.

Here's the thing. With critiquers and beta readers, they get to offer opinions on the writing, not the writer. You get to ask questions for clarification, to ensure you understood their feedback correctly. They do not get to demand explanations or justifications. They already had the chance to say "I didn't understand X" or "I didn't believe Y" but it's up to you how to process that feedback.

I suggest you hang out with some real writers and leave these self-appointed academic types to their own self-imposed misery :)

To paraphrase one of my characters, a university professor, when he suspects his life is in danger: "Academics usually opt for character assassination rather than the physical kind. It hurts more."

Sam Mills said...

Late to the party, but I'm also wondering if Ms. Beta reads SFF at all, or prefers literary fiction only.

The bit about needing a degree tickled me. I majored in Literature...but skipped all the English and American canon courses and stuffed myself with pre-modern lit. AKA I cheated and read all the glorious fantasy instead, from myth to medieval romance to Shakespeare. Don't tell me spec fic isn't the backbone of storytelling. XD Don't let your major (or lack thereof) bother you. In fact, you're better off learning other subjects you can incorporate into your writing than just learning how to turn out the same pretty sentences in the same format as the rest of your classmates... Why do we get so many books about writers? Because those writers need another hobby.

Rio said...

Her Grace, I actually debated whether to mention that bit about Mars' atmosphere. You said it much better than I would have.


One of my favorite quotes by Mr. Bradbury: "The purpose of fiction is not to nail you to the ground as facts do, but to take you to the edge of the cliff and kick you off so you build your wings on the way down."

Cordia Pearson said...

Dear 'Amateur' writer. I read Janet's response and zoomed to the comment box. Will be back later to read the 'feed.'

IMO none of us are amateurs. Yes, we love writing, but anyone who finishes a ms and finds even a vile beta, is a writer-in-progress. Yep, you're a WIP. Chalk this POS experience off your to do list. Now to grow the Rhino hide that will let you shrug this off and power forward.

BTW, bet most of us have had the same crappy feedback!

JEN Garrett said...

Listen to Janet, and as many of these comments as it takes. That's just wrong what happened to you.

I had a similar experience from a beta reader who thought I should take "refresher grammar classes." I realized this beta reader was a) 1 person, b) not a writer, and c) just plain wrong.

Aline Pusecker Taylor said...



Holy crap! Please don't take what she said to heart. Find new beta readers- preferably humans this time. Consider their feedback but also trust that internal tug that tells you when to stop listening. I had a former writing prof who I admire and respect, kindly let me know he didn't think much of a couple poems he offered to critique. I tweaked the title of one poem and a line in the other but otherwise left as-is. My gut told me to leave them alone. Both were published within the year. That doesn't always happen of course but trust your instincts.

meredithmansfield said...

Oh heavens! That's just totally unacceptable.
We've probably all had that one beta reader that we put on our black list as someone we'll never give our story to again, but not THIS bad.
You really need to find some beta readers in your genre, not someone who clearly believes that literary fiction is all that is worthwhile in the whole wide world. (Hint: She'd be in the minority in that opinion.) There are genre-specific forums out there. But, again, you need to find a good one. Look for one with a moderator who enforces the rules: 1) Always be civil. 2) No personal attacks. 3) Critique the work, not the writer.
It's just as important in a critique to say what does work as what doesn't. I like Nathan Bransford's sandwich rule--start and end with what's good about the work.
When, on rare occasions, I critique a work not in my genre, I always start by saying that and that therefore I may not be familiar with the conventions of that genre. Then I limit myself to the things that have to do with good story-telling, like noting where the pace felt slow, etc.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Dammit, and this kind of dreck can be paralyzing. Please try to put it behind you.

If it helps at all, here are a few comments I've gotten from beta readers and editors:

1) "I don't like this story because men who marry professional women don't say naughty words like that."

2) "It's just silly for that man to refer to 'his birds'." [The offending line in a sci-fi was "Now, I know I'm just a mere colonel and y'all are scientists, but how about this, if you want my approval, explain it to the birds," he said gesturing to the rank insignia on his collar."

3) "This is stupid because no one can commit suicide by hanging themselves on a bunk bed because [insert long-winded description of survival instinct.]" I'd based the story on an actual suicide at the local jail. Inmates have successfully hanged themselves on doorknobs.

4) "You are the single stupidest person on the internet." This was in response to an eBay listing where I had identified a Transformer action figure incorrectly.

5) Long drawn out explanation of why my aerosol distribution of toxins in a psy-op warfare scenario was just stupid. I'm an environmental engineer who based on science on real life environmental laws. The comment came from someone whose work centered around a sentient space ship.

The person probably has deep-seated religious objections to the concepts that humans could exist anywhere except Earth. Whether she'll admit it or not, it's coloring her outlook and opinions.

Her comments were vile and out of line. But what do I know, I'm the single stupidest person on the entire internet.

Terri

Alex Dook said...

Yeah that sort of feedback is never helpful.

I've honestly found with people beta reading my work that the ones who are better writers themselves usually say less, yet more helpful feedback. They seem to understand that I'm not interesting in them pointing out every instance where they would have done something different.

The worst beta read I ever got was by a guy who could barely string a sentence together.

koi singh said...

nice sharing, it's very helpful. thanks for this feedback

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